A Critique of Dennett’s Evolutionary Account of Intentionality
by Angus J. L. Menuge
Abstract—Naturalism claims that all genuine properties and relations are in some way reducible to the categories that are studied, or that could, in principle, be studied, by the natural sciences. The main objection to naturalism is that it cannot account for the existence and character of the normative, including rational and moral qualities. In the philosophy of mind, even more fundamental than the problem of consciousness is the problem of intentionality. Natural relations obtain between entities all of which exist, they are not about anything (they have no “content”), and they are not goal-directed. Thus when a rock falls from a mountainside into a river, not only the rock, but also the mountainside and river, must exist. And no one would claim that any state of the rock was about anything or had the goal of ending up in the river. But our thoughts are fundamentally different. I can think of sensible Californian gubernatorial candidates and property tax reduction even though no such things exist, and perhaps never will. What is more, I can think various things about these non-existent objects and I can have as a goal the meeting of a sensible Californian gubernatorial candidate or the promotion of property tax reduction far in advance of any relevant action of mine. Prima facie, the intentional relation of thought to its object is not a natural relation. To claim that intentional qualities just are rather odd natural ones would trivialize naturalism. So what the naturalist needs is an explanation of intentional qualities, one which shows that they are in fact compatible with a naturalistic worldview. In other words, some sort of reduction is needed.
The full paper is